Summer readings from John’s Gospel offer miniseries on Eucharist
Through the gift of himself in the Eucharist, we share in Jesus’ saving death and risen life here and now
Q. I’ve noticed that we have Gospel readings from John on five Sundays this summer. I thought that we were in the Year of Mark. Why the Gospels from John?
A. St. Mark gave us the shortest Gospel, and a good portion of it is the account of Jesus’ Passion. Perhaps he would have written more if he had known that after the Second Vatican Council the church would take his Gospel, divide it up and read it in segments on the Sundays of Cycle B, the Year of Mark. His Gospel doesn’t stretch to all the Sundays, so John’s Gospel has to fill in.
Beginning last Sunday, July 26, and for the next four Sundays, the liturgy presents us with an outstanding miniseries on the Eucharist. The Gospel readings for these Sundays, which are taken from the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel, center on the Lord Jesus who gives himself to us in the Eucharist.
But unlike the miniseries on television, these readings do not focus on a historical figure whose life and death are only a revered memory. Rather, here we have the living words and present deeds of the Lord Jesus, who lived and died and now lives forever. Through the gift of himself in the Eucharist, we share in his saving death and risen life here and now, and so the Gospel miniseries that began last Sunday is about us as well.
Past and present
John liked to present his vision of the Christian faith in the context of misunderstandings between Jesus and the people of his time. We see John doing this in the five episodes of the liturgy’s summer miniseries on the Eucharist.
John and the Christians for whom he wrote his Gospel believed that the people of Jesus’ time had failed to understand how God was working for them, and for all people, in God’s Son, Jesus Christ. John knew that the misunderstandings between Jesus and the people did not end with Jesus’ death and resurrection; these misunderstandings continued and deepened for many years after.
So, when John writes about misunderstandings between Jesus and the people, he is really writing on two time-levels: the level of the earthly Jesus and his early first-century contemporaries, and the level of the Christ who lives in his followers and who meets opposition in their late first-century contemporaries. And, there is a third time-level as well: ours. Don’t we often fail to under-stand and appreciate the great gift that God has given — gives now — and will give us in the Body and Blood of Christ?
Jesus continues to embody his love for us by his gift of self in the Eucharist. It is a gift that strengthens us for a life of self-giving after the pattern of his own. Doesn’t the Eucharist help to make your self-giving within your family, your “domestic church,” to be as generous and sacred as Jesus Christ’s self-giving within God’s family gathered in your parish church? Don’t we need Jesus Christ, the giver and gift of the Eucharist, to help us be the giver and gift of God’s love to each other?
Accept or reject?
The last episode of the church’s five-part miniseries on the Eucharist returns us to a theme present in the opening of John’s Gospel: acceptance and rejection of Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh.
Jesus’ self-giving in teaching and healing brought his hearers to a moment of decision. They had to decide for or against him. His rejection by some and his acceptance by others recall John’s words in the prologue to his Gospel: “He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him. But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name” (John 1:11-12).
In concluding the miniseries on the Eucharist, Peter the apostle speaks for the children of God in all times and places when he declares: “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68-69).
Peter speaks for all who find their faith strengthened through the presence of Christ in his holy Word and holy food — even if the liturgical celebration seems a bit dull or routine, or if the music selections aren’t their favorites, or if the homily runs a little long.
Peter speaks for all who find their drooping spirits lifted up by tasting the Lord’s goodness in the Eucharist. He speaks for all who know that to receive Jesus Christ in his Word and sacrament commits them to give themselves to the Lord and to others in return, just as Peter and the early disciples did.